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Summer Viewing Guide: 'Hill Street Blues'

Cop shows have been around for a long time. Adam-12 gave you every reason to think Los Angeles was filled with crime. Barney Miller taught you cops can be funny and also really old like Abe Vigoda. Hill Street Blues gave a more accurate depiction on how awful it must be being a metro cop. The NBC hit drama ran for seven seasons and 146 episodes, helping usher in a future need for shows like The Wire. Hill Street Blues is still highly regarded to this day, with TV Guide ranking it No. 14 on their 2002 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time list. Then in 2013, TV Guide named it No. 1 on their list of the 60 Greatest Dramas of All Time.

While looking at the show having watched The Wire along with Law and Order and a million other wannabe cop shows, Hill Street Blues holds true. While it, at times, plays a bit too melodramatic (remember, this was the 1980s) its core elements and themes remain a staple to the genre.

Noted Cast
Captain Frank Furillo: Daniel Travanti (Boss)
Joyce Davenport: Veronica Hamel (Third Watch, Lost)
Sergeant Phil Esterhaus: Michael Conrad (The Longest Yard, The Bob Newhart Show)
Detective Mick Belker: Bruce Weitz (General Hospital, Deep Impact)
Sergeant Henry Goldblume: Joe Spano (NCIS, American Graffiti, The Enforcer)

The Key Elements

The Opening Credits
During the first few seasons of Hill Street Blues every episode would begin with Sgt. Esterhaus doing roll call and going over notes that would prove to be a key to the episode. This was later reduced following Conrad's passing from cancer. He would be always remembered for: "Hey, let's be careful out there!"

This element to the first act helped introduce the viewers to what real police work was like. No longer was it just about following cops on the scene of a crime, but now viewers were with them as soon as they punched in. Hill Street Blues gave viewers the sense of how long and brutal a day in the Hill Street Precinct is. This led into to award-winning composer's Mike Post (Law and Order, NYPD Blue, L.A. Law, The Rockford Files) iconic theme.

The Hill
The precinct is a character itself. Filmed with a dark and grainy appearance, that style helped developed the worn down and cramp look of "The Hill."  The building is a relic which becomes the butt of many jokes by the characters while adding to the problems of Captain Furillo.

The Hill itself brought up the ambiguity of where the show was set. The creators made a lot of references to many cities in the Northeast and Midwest. Hill Street Blues' exterior shots were done in Chicago. The street, neighborhoods and police districts were named from Anthony Yerkovich and David Milch's hometown of Buffalo. Steven Bochco, the series co-creator, used his time at college at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh in his work.

Captain Furillo
The show is structured with an emsemble cast, but Furillo is the impetus of the plots. As the head of the The Hill, he has to deal with all the action his officers deal with along with the issues of the city and police administration. To combat all the stress and issues that arise, Furillo acts as the moral compass. He fights to serve his officers and the community with a calm demeanor and rational thought, like a Moses in a blue uniform.

The gang life and relationship with gangs was a recurring issue on the show. Rather than write the stories to erase them from the community, Furillo worked on securing a strong lines of communication with them. Their dealings became serialized in story arcs and even helped introduced the world to David Caruso (CSI: Miami). He is easy to spot — he runs the Shamrocks and looks like a leprechaun.

Without Hill Street Blues, we would have never gotten Law and Order, NYPD Blue or The Wire. The show used the personal lives of officers to humanize the constant violence and hell of working the inner-city beat. While the show does focus on the negative aspects of that work, it helped establish an idea of hope for the bleak.
Summer Viewing Guide: 'Hill Street Blues' Reviewed by Seth Pohorence on 6/13/2013 Rating: 5

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